WHERE: TD Garden in Boston Massachusetts
WHEN: 6:30PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Bruno Caboclo (Out, Left Knee Soreness)
BOSTON- Robert Williams (Out, Hip); Jaylen Brown (Questionable, Ankle)
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
BOSTON- Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
The Grizzlies will have their hands full as they quickly try and regroup after their Martin Luther King Jr. Day game against the New Orleans Pelicans. They were riding a seven game winning streak and could not keep up the momentum all the way through this game. The Grizzlies allowed 21 three-pointers and fell behind early. They just never were able to get back into the contest.
Tonight, they will head north to take on the Boston Celtics. Both of these teams have actually been going in different trajectories up until this past Monday. The Celtics were on a three game losing streak, while also dropping six of eight. Contrast that with the Grizzlies and their aforementioned seven game winning streak. The Celtics stopped their slide with a huge home win against the Los Angeles Lakers. A win that made them get their confidence back as a contender in this league.
These two teams have a funny relationship because of what is at stake for draft purposes. The Celtics own the Grizzlies 2020 first round pick if it falls outside of the top-6. If it does not, it falls into a unprotected first round pick in 2021. Celtics Nation has to be livid at the Grizzlies for their success this far. They assumed that pick would set up nicely to possibly roll over next year, but it does not look like that will be the case anymore. It is a interesting side plot of this game.
The real bottom line is that the Celtics are a top team in the Eastern Conference, and if the Grizzlies expect to make that jump to playoff contender, these games are the ones they cannot roll over on. Memphis needs to focus on forgetting the last game against the Pelicans and focus on what is in front of them. A short memory is the best mindset to have in this league.
Here are two things to watch in this one:
Ja vs. Boston
The stage will once again be set for Ja Morant to show off in front of a huge crowd. Boston is one of those basketball towns which will appreciate incredible young rookies such as Morant. Tonight, he will get that opportunity to dazzle against a backcourt that may cause some troubles for him.
Depending on how Coach Brad Stevens approaches this, there may be a variation of defenders against Ja Morant. They may start the game with Kemba Walker on him. This is in Morant’s advantage, as Walker is an average to below average on ball defender. He has gotten better in the Brad Stevens system, but one-on-one, Morant can score with ease.
If that goes terribly for the Celtics, Stevens may switch Marcus Smart on Morant. This is when the challenge will go up drastically for Ja. Smart is of course a much better defender than Walker. He is the heart and soul of this Boston team who gives them a huge boost with his tenacious attitude that gets the crowd rocking. Smart will know how to get under the skin of Morant, so it will be fascinating to see these two matched up against one another.
Attack the Paint
For the Grizzlies, it will be important to take care of the paint down low. This is a game Jonas Valanciunas can thrive in because of the thin frontcourt the Celtics have to offer. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter are their only true centers, and that weakness of the roster is something the Grizzlies could possibly exploit.
They should focus on getting Valanciunas some big minutes while feeding him the ball for him to body the Celtics around in the paint. He is averaging career highs in points and rebounds this year and has been keeping this team afloat in some games this year contributing his 30 points and 15 rebounds. It is all the Grizzlies need against some of these teams with weaknesses in their frontcourt.
The Celtics will try and match bruising bigs with Enes Kanter, but he may not be able to contain Valanciunas. This will be a fun match-up to watch Coach Taylor Jenkins and Brad Stevens battle back and forth with. If Valanciunas can hold his own, the rest of the team can focus on their young wings in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
All of that being said, I do not see the Grizzlies taking this one on the road in a tough environment. Boston looked like a complete team Monday night against the Lakers and could spell trouble for the Grizzlies if they have it again. I also really favor Marcus Smart in the match-up with Morant. This will put added pressure to find other scoring. Unless JV has another strong 30+ points and 15+ rebounds game, it will be hard for the Grizzlies.
Celtics defense will clamp down on this Grizzlies team and come out victorious by more than 7. Take the Celtics and lay the points.
Celtics- 120, Grizzlies- 105